Date: Mon Apr 27 2009 - 22:23:13 EDT
Religious Revolt: New Christian Sect Battles Demons, Raises the Dead,
Campaigns for Sarah Palin
By Bruce Wilson, Religion Dispatches
Posted on April 23, 2009, Printed on April 27, 2009
What is happening to Christianity?
In 1996 a team from Ted Haggard's New Life Church flew to Mali and began
furtively anointing entire towns with cooking oil.
The strangeness of it gripped Dutch missionary René Holvast, who later
wrote: "It was confusing and produced a growing uneasiness. It did not seem
to fit our current evangelical theological and anthropological textbooks."
The team from Haggard's church was a forerunner in a missionary wave that
has washed over the world since the early 1990s, bringing what Holvast
calls a ‘new paradigm.'
René Holvast has theological training, but his perplexed reaction was
similar to that of Alix Spiegel, a radio journalist who went to Ted
Haggard's New Life Church in 1997 to do a story for This American Life.
Spiegel encountered something so alluring, even overwhelming, that the
secular, urban Jew was almost pulled in. (After several days at Ted
Haggard's church, Spiegel called This American Life's Ira Glass who -- as
if he were a deprogrammer weaning her from a cult -- had to convince Alix
Spiegel that she really belonged back in her secular realm of origin,
>From its early days, New Life Church's members worked to map out all the
territorial demon spirits inhabiting Colorado Springs. At some point in the
process, they fed the mapping information into a computer database.
Methodically -- street by street, block by block -- they used
prayer-warfare to expel the demons from their city. And they maintained a
24/7 prayer shield over Colorado Springs to prevent demon re-infestations.
As with inner-city cockroaches, the price of demon-free living was constant
Alix Spiegel called some of the practices she saw at Haggard's church
"medieval," while René Holvast described this new way as incommensurable
with modern Christianity:
Conversations and discussions with some missionary colleagues did not
seem to lead to mutual understanding. The usual evangelical ways of
reasoning fell mute. It seemed to be not just a different way of
understanding, but a different way of reasoning altogether.
In fact, at the very time Holvast and Spiegel encountered it, the ‘new
paradigm' had just been invented. In the period of the late 1980s through
the early 1990s, a group of quintessentially American tinkerers grafted new
practices of ‘spiritual mapping' and ‘spiritual warfare' onto a
peculiar and radical theological substrate emerging from the Latter Rain
and healing revivals that burst out in Canada and North America during the
They molded their hybridized new Christianity into a standardized package
of ideas and practices such that, by the late 1990s, they began exporting
the product from Colorado Springs to both the domestic American market and
internationally at an astonishing rate.
It was as newfangled as Henry Ford's Model T had been and, like Ford's car,
it quickly became established, even ubiquitous, on every continent but
In 2009, one can now watch YouTube video footage of Christians from all
over the earth practicing the same, very new form of the faith that
features the blowing of shofars and the "Davidic dance" -- using very
distinctive, recently minted, theological terms. There was a common origin.
For practical purposes, Colorado Springs was the Dearborn, Michigan of the
A New Reformation?
This development has not gone wholly unnoticed. Here's how an Atlantic
Monthly editor portentously introduced historian Philip Jenkins' October
2002 article, "The Next Christianity":
We stand at a historical turning point, the author argues -- one that
is as epochal for the Christian world as the original Reformation. Around
the globe Christianity is growing and mutating in ways that observers in
the West tend not to see. Tumultuous conflicts within Christianity will
leave a mark deeper than Islam's on the century ahead.
Jenkins accurately depicted the radical nature of the ‘religious
revolution' underway which, he wrote, "one might equate with the
Counter-Reformation." He also pegged its goal: restoring a global Christian
church "filled with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces
that cause sickness and poverty."
But Philip Jenkins' "The Next Christianity" argued that the new
"counter-reformation" is being driven largely by indigenized forms of
Christianity, erupting from the Global South, that view the Christianity of
the developed North as spiritually enervated and morally corrupt.
The reality of the North-South dynamic is far more complex -- there is
cross-pollination these days between Christian traditions in the Global
South and in the developed world, with African evangelicals aggressively
moving to develop their own missions in Texas, Ukraine, Moscow, and
The original Counter-Reformation did not originate in Europe's developing
colonial holdings but, rather, in the European Catholic Church. In similar
fashion, most of the leaders and ideas driving the second (counter)
reformation have come out of the developed North, from the pool of
conservative Christians bitterly opposed to the liberal Christianity of the
North. These Christians have resorted to radical methods to turn back the
clock, to the pre-Enlightenment age if not before. It is a
counter-reformation, then, but more than that too -- while it embodies the
sentiments of a traditionalist backlash, it is also creatively moving
forward, a second Reformation.
According to Ted Haggard, "Peter Wagner regularly writes and speaks about
the New Apostolic Reformation. He has accurately recognized the changes as
so dramatic that they are creating an actual reformation within the body of
Christ." That's from page 44 of Ted Haggard's book The Life Giving Church
(Gospel Light Publications, 1998). On page 35, Haggard describes a 1992
meeting in Upland, California, that was the genesis of his close
partnership with Peter Wagner:
When I arrived, I met Luis Bush, Dick Eastman, Peter and Doris Wagner
and several other recognized leaders. From that meeting, New Life Church
formed its mission for the 1990s -- to support Luis Bush generally and
Peter and Doris Wagner specifically... a calling that led to the creation
of the World Prayer Center and much more. We as a team coordinated the
Prayer Through the Window series that had 22,500,000 participants in 1993;
36,700,000 participants in 1995; over 40,000,000 in 1997.
By Haggard's account, he and C. Peter Wagner had constructed a global
communications net that by 1997 could reach tens of millions of Christians
in the prayer movement. In 2005, during the Global Day of Prayer, an
estimated 200 million Christians in stadiums and arenas around the world
joined in synchronous prayer.
Haggard's New Life Church and the adjacent World Prayer Center that was
dedicated in 1998 were, for roughly a decade, the epicenter of an ongoing,
radical redefinition of Christianity. One of its early board members became
known to the secular world during the 2008 presidential campaign as an
enigmatic Kenyan evangelist who, in 2005, had blessed Sarah Palin against
In the introduction to his dissertation, "Spiritual Mapping: The Turbulent
Career of a Contested American Missionary Paradigm," written for the
University of Utrecht and published in 2005, René Holvast described the
arrival of the ‘new paradigm' in Mali, where he and his wife had been
engaged in missions work:
Something new happened in 1996. At CMA missionary conferences, US
visitors were flown in to teach the missionaries about ‘a new
cutting-edge paradigm' for mission...
The new paradigm entailed that missionaries had to ‘identify' and
‘bind territorial spirits' and ‘unleash' divine power. Evangelism was
to be preceded by ‘prayer walks,' and prayer was considered best if done
geographically ‘on-site,' within a ‘target area.' Prayer became the
identification of and confrontation with demons... All of this was
categorized as ‘Spiritual Mapping'...
A team flown in from the New Life Church in Colorado Springs
secretively anointed traditional fetish huts and whole villages.
A year later in 1997, Alix Spiegel described Ted Haggard's New Life Church
members methodically ‘prayer walking' the streets, trying to drive away
territorial demon spirits from Colorado Springs.
Two years later, in 1999, the new paradigm came to the Wasilla Assembly of
God via a video that was described in the Christian Science Monitor article
"Targeting cities with ‘spiritual mapping,' prayer."
In the opening sentences of her story, Jane Lampman asked, "Can the
‘spiritual DNA' of a community be altered? That's the question posed in a
Christian video called ‘Transformations.'" Lampman continued:
Kenyan pastor Thomas Muthee is convinced that it can be. In 1988, he
and his wife, Margaret, were ‘called by God to Kiambu,' a notorious,
violence-ridden suburb of Nairobi and a ‘ministry graveyard' for churches
for years. They began six months of fervent prayer and research.
Muthee's story was held up as a case study in the 1999 pseudo-documentary
Transformations the first in a series that its producers assert has brought
to tens of millions, even hundreds of millions, the doctrine that
Christians can create a utopia on Earth by driving out territorial demon
spirits and alleged witches with the power of massed prayer. The exposure
brought Thomas Muthee global fame.
Transformations I was released in 1999. The same year, it reached the
members of a Mat-Su Valley, Alaska, church network (the Valley Pastors
Prayer Network) whose pastors were so gripped by the video that they made
contact with most of the religious figures shown in George Otis Jr.'s
production. And they were so especially taken with Thomas Muthee's story
they brought him to Alaska in 1999 and raised $30,000 so Muthee could buy
land in Kenya to build his church.
As detailed in a late October 2008 Associated Press story by Garance Burke
and an AP investigative team, Sarah Palin's Wasilla mayoral records show
that she borrowed the Transformations I video from her former Wasilla
Assembly of God pastor in 2000.
In August 2005, Bishop Thomas Muthee returned to Alaska and gave a weeklong
sermon series at the Wasilla Assembly of God. The August 16, 2005 ceremony
at the church was made notorious when footage of it surfaced during the
2008 presidential election. In it, congregants watch as Thomas Muthee
blesses Sarah Palin against "every spirit of witchcraft." Several days
later after that 2005 ceremony, Palin launched her campaign for the Alaska
The Numbers Don't Lie
In Radical Holiness For Radical Living (Wagner Publications, 2002) C. Peter
A process that began after World War II has now resulted in a newfound
recognition of the gifts and offices of apostle and prophet in our churches
today. The movement called the New Apostolic Reformation has been bringing
about a most radical change in the way of doing church since the Protestant
reformation. It is currently the most rapidly-growing segment of
Christianity in every continent of the world.
Evidence suggests Wagner isn't exaggerating. According to the evangelical
missionary reference book, World Christian Trends AD 30 -- AD 2200, by the
year 2000, a category of Christianity known as postdenominationalism
encompassed 385 million Christians, nearly 20% of the faith.
World Christian Trends lists 280 dichotomies that distinguish
denominational from postdenominational Christianity -- which, according to
the book, has "no connection with historic Christianity." The Third Wave
represents an even more radical break.
Erupting within postdenominationalism starting in the 1980s, Third Wave
Christianity claimed, by 2000, some 295 million adherents. World Christian
Trends calls the Third Wave a "new and disturbingly different kind of
Christian renewal." One very distinctive characteristic of Third Wave
Christianity is its emphasis that average Christians can perform the same
magnitude of healing miracles described in the New Testament to have been
performed by Jesus Christ -- including raising the dead.
Within two decades, Third Wave Christianity encompassed over four percent
of humanity. It is a seismic change.
In his book Churchquake!: A Look at the Dramatic New Movement That Will
Affect the Future of the Church, C. Peter Wagner states that the editor of
World Christian Trends, David Barrett, told Wagner that by 1996 Barrett had
over a thousand apostolic networks in his global research database,
representing well over 100 million Christians. How many Christians are in
apostolic networks over a decade later? We can only guess. C. Peter
Wagner's New Apostolic Reformation has pulled together those apostolic
networks, into what might be, for all we know, the biggest Protestant
"nondenominational" (or postdenominational) denomination on the planet.
The Wagner Leadership Institute is currently offering, for free, a one-hour
lecture by Wagner, session number 4 of WLI course AP825 (the "AP" stands
for "Apostles and Prophets"). For getting a basic understanding of the
movement Wagner refers to, and has played a key role in catalyzing, one
probably couldn't do much better than to watch this lecture. C. Peter
Wagner is a seasoned, professional educator... who aims to transform the
biggest religion on Earth. (It probably doesn't hurt that Wagner bears a
considerable resemblance to former fried-chicken mogul ‘Colonel' Harlan
Kicking off his lecture, Wagner tells the class:
OK, first of all, I want to repeat something. You don't have to write
it down, because you already have it in your notes. But I want to remind
you that the New Apostolic Reformation is the most radical change in the
way of doing church since the Protestant Reformation. That's what we're
X number of megablocks of Christianity, each with Y millions of Christians.
Categories of Christianity zoom from the left onto Peter Wagner's huge blue
WLI classroom screen, bouncing slightly for effect as they hit the right
edge of the screen before rebounding to center. There's one little block of
20 million or so, explains Wagner, which includes Mormons and Jehovah's
Witnesses. He typically just ignores this block in his presentations,
explains Wagner, because they're "cultic."
The biggest megablock outside of the Catholic Church, and the fastest
growing of all? The postdenominational block, 385 million strong by 2000.
Wagner calls this block "neo-Apostolic." It's bigger now than in 2000, he
says, and Wagner notes that it's the only megablock growing faster than the
earth's population and faster than Islam.
Wagner's cell phone rings mid-lecture; a Hank Williams ringtone. The class
laughs. In fact, it's probably an act designed to loosen them up. A pro
with five decades of public speaking under his belt, C. Peter Wagner is the
"convening apostle" of the International Coalition of Apostles. He's also
the presiding Apostle over a prayer network originally formed, in 1990, as
the "Spiritual Warfare Network," now called the Global Apostolic Prayer
Network. Sarah Palin joined Wagner's new network the year it was formed, in
How many Christians worldwide are in Wagner's various networks? Few know,
and Peter Wagner doesn't seem to be forthcoming with the information. He
doesn't like to boast. But one thing is clear: Christianity is changing.
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted from <a
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